Receiving Faith, Living in Trusting Faith: Being Transformed Into the People God Desires Us to Be


Luke 9:28-43     Transfiguration Sunday     March 3, 2019

 

What a reading we have from the gospel of Luke!  These two stories include a mountain top experience, mystical revelation from God, bewilderment and terror, the struggle to understand what God is saying, the desire to keep things just the same as always even though God is calling us to be transformed, human beings acting in ways that exasperate God …

… in other words, this reading includes every experience in the life of faith!

*  *  *

On this last Sunday before the season of Lent begins, here’s what’s been happening in the gospel of Luke:

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”  He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels….”  (Luke 9:18-26)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.  They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Just as Moses was on a mountain top to receive God’s law, Jesus – God in human flesh and blood – has taken his three closest disciples up on top of a mountain.  In this mystical vision of revelation, Moses appears – and so does Elijah.  Do you remember what they are talking with Jesus?  About Jesus’ departure, “which he [is] about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  You see, here, now, the gospel writer is pointing us towards Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  This is nothing less than the culmination of centuries of God’s people watching and waiting for the messiah.  This is earth-shaking!  This is creation-changing!

But Jesus’ closest disciples, there on the mountain top with him, do not understand any of this.  They are not able to receive the trusting faith that would allow them to see with their eyes.  They are not able to receive the trusting faith that would allow them to respond to this new thing that God is doing, to be transformed into God’s future.  The only thing Peter can think to do is to do what he knows to do: he offers to construct three dwellings, or booths, for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  This is what Peter has been formed to do, as an observant Jew, for the Festival of Booths, the annual festival commemorating Israel’s wilderness wandering.  Notice the gospel writer’s wry comment: that Peter offers to do this “not knowing what he said.”  This wrong response exasperates God!  We read: While [Peter] was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.  They even hear the voice of the Father telling them who Jesus is, and to listen to him!  But they are not able to receive the trusting faith that would allow them to hear with their ears.

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            The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is challenging.  It’s an especially dramatic instance of what we find when we actually read the Bible and actually pay attention to the Bible: over and over again, it is God who takes the initiative.  God reveals God’s self.  God tells human beings what God’s desires are – which are, nearly always, much different from what the self-centered human beings have been pursuing.  The stories in the Bible then become about human beings’ response – our openness to God’s initiative, our willingness to respond to how God is moving us, at various times, through our lives.  This “gets at the very roots of our life, uprooting us, creating the new person of the Gospel.”[1]  It’s always a matter of receiving faith so we can trust God, living in trusting faith, responding as God transforms us into the people God desires us to be.  Luther describes this life of faith as the “significance” of baptism.  It is the daily dying to ourselves and rising to become the new persons that God desires us to become.[2]

This life of faith is not comfortable!  Whether the metaphor is that God is drowning us each day, or that God is uprooting us, when God is wanting to create each of us to be the new person of the Gospel, we struggle to trust God.  We struggle to let go, to receive the faith that God the Holy Spirit is creating,[3] to allow “God’s work in Christ to penetrate deep inside [our] heart[s].”[4]

But what good news it is to receive this trusting faith that the Spirit creates!  We are transformed!  As Timothy Wengert puts it in By Heart, the current book that many of us are studying, we are able to “[come] to God like children who trust a loving parent.”[5]  “Faith is given ‘by heart’ when God’s word comes to real people.”[6]  This is what God is doing here in this place, week after week, using words and water and bread and wine: God is breaking us down when we are clinging only to what we know.  God is creating faith through the word and the water and the bread and wine!  God is seeking to transform us, to “move us daily from sin to faith, from fear to love of God, from life under the law to true freedom in Christ.”[7]

It is a matter of receiving faith, living in that trusting faith, being transformed into the people God desires us to be.  We respond to what God creates within us and among us !

One reason why Luther insisted on the “real presence” of Christ, physically present in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion is because Christ’s presence makes real forgiveness of sins.  “For without a sense of God’s mercy, shown in forgiveness given freely and without preconditions, Luther believed Christians cannot escape their own fears and imaginings and become the kind of servants to their neighbors that God expects, indeed, commands them to be.  The eucharist does not just strengthen and console and nourish believers: it gives them power to act in love, to show neighbor love, and to fight for justice for those too weak to advocate for themselves.”[8]

It is a matter of receiving faith, living in trusting faith, being transformed into the people God desires us to be.

Think of how you’ve experienced this!  Think of when it’s felt like you’re being drowned by God.   Think of how you experience that sense of being uprooted from only knowing to do what you’ve always done.  When you’re out of sorts, where is the blessing?  When you’re not sleeping well, what’s going on?  Are you living in that trusting faith?  What is going on when your mind is not a calm mind but a buzzing one[9] — what is God doing with you?  What is your purpose, at this stage of your life?  What are you being called to do in response to what God is creating in you?  How is God transforming you?

These are big questions, aren’t they?  They aren’t questions that you need to answer on your own.  Who in this community can help in this discernment?  Who can help you pay attention, to hear what God is saying?

Lent begins on Wednesday.  What could be Lenten practices to refocus, to see with your eyes and to hear with your ears what God is doing – which Peter and John and James were not able to do?

It is a matter of receiving faith, living in that trusting faith, being transformed into the people God desires us to be.  What release there is in this!  What energy!  What good news!

In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

 

[1] Katherine Marie Dyckman, S.N.J.M. and L. Patrick Carroll, S.J., Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet (Paulist Press, 1981), pages 43-44.

[2] See Luther’s explanation of Holy Baptism, in the Small Catechism.

[3] See Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, in the Small Catechism.

[4] Timothy J. Wengert, ed., By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (Augsburg Fortress, 2017), page 7.

[5] Ibid., page 8

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] R. Guy Irwin, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” in By Heart, ibid.

[9] Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), page 123.


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine retired in July 2019 after 40 years of ordained ministry. He loved serving as a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!